By Henry Bagdasarian
Businesses should not underestimate their customer role in the overall plans and efforts for protecting business information and reducing identity theft and related fraud costs. As I have indicated before, the majority of businesses do a pretty good job at securing confidential information within the boundaries of their business environments; however, they have neglected their vendor and customer role in the battle against identity theft and fraud.
As we know, consumer private information is constantly created, duplicated and shared by both businesses and customers. In fact, customers share some personal information with certain businesses, and in return, businesses create additional identity components while they maintain the shared information by customers. Once the new identity components are produced such as new account number and user name, businesses send these components to customers who must now also maintain the additional pieces of identity. But customers lack the necessary knowledge regarding identity theft risks as well as best practices to securely maintain their personal information and these additional identity components. For example, in the case of a bank, customers complete a few applications while they provide some personal information to open a new account and in exchange, the banks validate and approve their identities and provide them with checks, ATM debit cards, and credit cards for their use and convenience. While banks have good intentions to provide valuable services to their customers, they fail to educate their customers about the risks of check fraud, credit card fraud and debit card fraud as well as ways to properly manage these additional identity components. Another example is related to insurance whereby customers share their personal information by completing a few applications to obtain health insurance, car insurance and life insurance. Again, the majority of businesses in the insurance industry fail to educate their customers about insurance fraud and ways to prevent, detect and report them. As an insured individual, when were you last educated by your health insurance company about the risks of medical identity fraud, how it occurs, and how important your role as a consumer of their services is in preventing, detecting and preventing fraud? In the past, I detected medical fraud committed by a doctor whom I visited only once. He kept charging my insurance company which happened to also be my employer at the time for services which he never rendered. I detected the fraud with careful review of the insurance statements I received each time the doctor charged my insurance company and promptly reported the fraud to the company's fraud department. I can only guess that I was not the only patient this doctor was abusing to commit fraud. But how many people do you think will review insurance statements, detect unauthorized services and follow up to properly report potential fraud? Considering the vulnerability of some consumers such as the elderly and immigrants, I’m sure unethical doctors could be successful at collecting huge amounts of fraud dollars from the insurance companies.
The final and conclusive point I want to make is that there are many sharks out there who will not hesitate to defraud anyone especially the most vulnerable among us who happen to be some of your customers. Businesses which understand the customer role in their efforts to keep fraud costs down and ultimately offer competitive prices will benefit in the long run by educating their customers about identity fraud. Some businesses may view the cost of educating customers to be high and unworthy, but I would argue that the long term cost of uneducated customers is even higher for the reasons I just provided.
As businesses acknowledge their customer role as a business partner in the battle against identity fraud, their customer awareness and education costs do not need to be high as websites such as www.identity-theft-awareness.com post regular identity theft articles and send out periodic newsletters to thousands of employees and customers at no cost. Therefore, there is no excuse to ignore the customer role in the battle against identity theft and fraud.
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